There have been only two “official” versions of the Flux-Labyrinth according to Fluxus artist Larry Miller but its history is becoming maze-like itself.
The first incarnation of the project was in writing. Fluxus founder George Maciunas’ 1974 “Preliminary Instruction Drawing for Flux-Maze” provided the overview for subsequent manifestations. A January 1975 proposal for the “Flux-Maze at Rene Block Gallery” on West Broadway in Manhattan never happened but since Block owned the rights, the Flux-Maze eventually did become the September 1976 “Flux-Labyrinth” as part of Berlin’s 26th Arts Festival at the Academie Der Kunst, designed by Maciunas and Miller. Joe Jones, Ay-O, Robert Watts, Yoshi Wada and others were also listed as collaborators. Miller has written, “From September 5 to October 17 of that year, thousands of participants made their way through the extensive maze of puzzling and obstacle-laden corridors. Based on ideas by numerous Fluxus artists, doors, walls and floors were altered to make passage very challenging.”
Two previous Fluxus projects, Ay-O’s rainbow staircase “Fluxfest Presentation” in November 1965 and “Portrait of John Lennon As A Young Cloud,” a maze with eight doors built by Maciunas for a May 1970 “Fluxfest Presentation for John Lennon & Yoko Ono” are listed as pre-cursors to the project in the “Fluxus Codex”. Also deserving of a mention was Maciunas’ “Flux-Combat between the Attorney General of New York,” an elaborate door-related installation designed to protect Maciunas’ residence from unwanted intruders in 1975-76.
Miller, who worked with Maciunas from 1969 to the latter’s death from pancreatic cancer in 1978, was asked to re-create the first Flux-Labyrinth from photographs and other documentation at the Walker Art Center in 1993 in Minneapolis for the exhibition “In the Spirit of Fluxus.” Miller has explained it “included the addition of elements from artists such as Geoffrey Hendricks and Alison Knowles, which were not realized in 1976.”
The next “unofficial” manfestation of Flux-Labyrinth was a “mini-labyrinth” at A1 Art Interactive in Cambridge, Massachusetts as part of the show “Do-It Yourself Fluxus” organized by Midori Yoshimoto. Miller created a plan for an “abbreviated” version “that replicated nearly one fourth of the 1976 installation.”
Finally, this month’s Frieze Art Fair on Randall Island in New York City featured a “re-creation” or “homage” to the original Flux-Labyrinth but due to previous commitments, Miller was unable to participate or provide guidance, so this latest Flux-Labyrinth became the first incarnation without it. It did feature input from Flux-artists Hendricks and Knowles who were in the 1993 version, and several recreations of designs by Maciunas, Nam June Paik and others by the Frieze staff who were careful to bill their labyrinth as a “tribute” as they did with other projects in previous years including FOOD, the artist-run restaurant project by Gordon Matta-Clark.
I spoke to Larry Miller by telephone with the hope of uncovering some of the ideas behind the Flux-Labyrinth. —Mark Bloch
MB: So you were involved in previous Flux-Labyrinths?
LM: Me basically doing work in the shadow of the great George Maciunas. The first was in the Berlin Flux-Labyrinth at the Academie Der Kunst in 1976. I went there about two and a half weeks before. I remade it at the Walker. I did the whole thing again in 1993 from photographs at the Walker. An approximately 900 or 1000 square foot thing.
Can you reconstruct “Relache” from photographs? You can probably do the 1942 Surrealist Exhibition with the string and the upside down umbrellas. You could do a decent version of that based on the photographs.
MB: You have said that the Flux-Labyrinth is a giant Fluxbox. You cited Maciunas’ concept of Flux-Vaudeville.
LM: The labyrinth stands for the puzzle. The puzzle, the maze is kind of a space-time translation of finding the location of where you are. Situating yourself. Where do I stand on this? Where am I?
MB: A meta-GPS system?
LM: A similar question, an archetypical question is, “What is consciousness?” Where the hell are we? They don’t even know that in the Congress of the United States. They don’t know it anywhere. The labyrinth is the most central issue of our era. Global warming. It’s raining thirty inches in Houston. Why is Putin taking over the Crimea? The labyrinth represents that which we do not know. Where the hell are we? This is what makes art so important. Art is something that tells us or gives us some clue of where we might be.
MB: So where are we?
LM: It’s never changed. That question hasn’t changed ever. It’s gotten more deep, there’s more depth and more details.
You look at TV and you see that Houston got 30 inches of rain in one night and eight people are dead. Something is going on. This constitutes the puzzle. The labyrinth is just a puzzle. That’s what consciousness is, a puzzle. Different artists through different ages have tried to physical-ize this… through hedges as a labyrinth or whatever. Taking it one step further, if you accept the idea the labyrinth or maze which has been with us since Stonehenge, if not before… the movement of the stars is a maze… hence the word “amazing….” It’s obvious that the idea of a puzzle… of “the question” idea… of questioning, itself, is a maze, in a very real sense. It is “The Question.”
MB: The age old question…
LM: We’re all wondering… the real question is… what’s going on? What’s happening? What’s at the bottom of this is the labyrinth, the maze, is one of the Jungian archetypes of art. It’s been physical-ized in many ways in history. You have it in “The Shining.” Stanley Kubrick. You have it in any number of movies. You have it in Robert Morris, one of the great artists of our era. You have it throughout the history of art. You have it in Roman times. It is extremely clear that what the labyrinth stands for is the question of “Where are we?”
Alice Aycock did a maze. Robert Morris did a maze. There’s nothing Fluxus about it. The only thing that’s interesting about the Flux-Labyrinth is that it sends it up. It makes, instead of just a mental exercise or a physical geography trip, it makes it… it expands it. If you look at the George Maciunas’ chart, his “Diagram of Historical Development of Fluxus and Other 4 Dimentional, Aural, Optic, Olfactory, Epithelial and Tactile Art Forms,” that was why I said that the Flux-Labyrinth was essentially a giant Fluxbox. Because when we did it we were trying to engage all these aspects of experience— aural, optic, olfactory, epithelial and tactile.
While I was, in the meantime, trying to mitigate the danger that George put into it, as precautions. He had no rails! He wouldn’t let anyone in because the elephant shit had been stolen! I don’t want to speak for George nor can I or should I but it was meant to be a trip through the inner sanctum of… for lack of better words… the Flux-Labyrinth was a kind of existential substitute for 20th Century experience vis a vis art. It’s that simple. It’s a giant Fluxbox of “physical experience.”
MB: An object to be played with? A game?
LM: What I think is if you look at George’s chart… the aural, optic, olfactory, epithelial and tactile—all the senses—the fundamental idea behind the Flux-Labyrinth is Maciunas was taking that essential idea of the puzzle of consciousness—in my mind, my projection—and trying to translate it in basic 20th Century terms which to me were existential. To say existential is to say concrete. To say concrete is to say physical sensation, something stimulates the senses. If you look at his chart and the title it will become clear to you. George Maciunas was basically an existentialist trying to work things out in these terms which lead to the word, “Concrete,” which was so important to him. You must experience. Concrete experience—for humana, at least—assumes consciousness, physical awareness, mind-body feedback. The mind body feedback we take for granted.
MB: Why is it a send up?
LM: The send up is essentially Buddhist. We are fools and to know that you are a fool is a send up. To know you are mocking experience, mocking phony intellectualism—a true wise person knows they are not wise. It is only that kind of person who can send up themselves to this awareness. That “C’mon, we all know this is bullshit.”
It’s laughable, I think that’s what George understood. It is, in the end, laughable. Certainly Buddhist wise men know this. Did you ever hear an interview with the Dalai Lama? You can put it in other terms: you are taking yourself too seriously… the fear of death… all these things, in the end, are reductive to the existential reality of it. It is simply what it is and there’s no more mystery than that. I think that’s what the wise men have to say: “What’s the big deal?”
MB: So is it ironic this was being presented at an art fair?
LM: Some might say the art market at its worst is seeded in an urge to simply profit on the human need for meaning. Reverence and mystery and questioning go into making serious art. There is some deep-pitted emotional urge in true art. In the end, as I keep saying in various ways, it’s all about the search for meaning. That is the prize at the end of the labyrinth, that’s the goal, that’s what drives people forward through the thorns and thickets. That’s what people want: “meaning.” Meaning is the quest of consciousness.
Elon Musk the head of Tesla Motors and CEO of Space-X and other companies and Stephen Hawkings both were recently quoted as saying the greatest danger to the human race is artificial intelligence. Like HAL in “2001” or Skynet in the “Terminator.” Ultimately what they are saying is artificial intelligence—I deduce from what they say—what people eventually want is sense and that’s what constitutes an interesting word. What makes sense? Sense means that which we feel, that which we think we know, that which computes, that which fits our intelligence such that it has evolved. I think that is why people like Musk and Hawking fear artificial intelligence: because it may not make sense anymore. It will be beyond the human experience. The Flux-Labyrinth, meanwhile, is about sense. About all the senses as George conceived of them. The totality of your physical experience, not just cognitive challenges, not just physical challenges. All of those kinds of challenges a body would encounter in a kind of gauntlet.
MB: As in “throw down the gauntlet?”
LM: The real Flux-Labyrinth is a gauntlet for the entire sensory apparatus for the human mind-body experience. In the end it’s about not just feeling in a simple sense of feeling but in the deeper sense of feeling, what is it that is the essence of our humanity? If we don’t ask ourselves that question, we’re going to go extinct. I seriously believe that. I believe that art and particularly music, art language, music are the things that define us as a species and distinguish us from even dolphins and whales, these things at the center of consciousness. Art is about, “How conscious can you get?”